Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Anxiety Over Helmand Offensive

The Marines stormed into Helmand with force, speed, fury. Offensives are really the Marines' game, and the ride into Helmand was no different. Had anyone been there to fight them, it would have been quite the horror show.

But. There was nobody there to fight them. The Taliban apparently did the smart thing and disappeared when the Americans showed up, rather than stick around to try to repel them. In fact, the Taliban have fared quite poorly for the past 8 years when they have taken Americans toe-to-toe. But this is asymmetric warfare, and as long as the Taliban shows patience, they have a shot.

I wondered whether the Taliban would be wise enough to disappear, rather than fight, after their disastrous stand at Swat. These Afghan Taliban are more hardened than their Pakistani brethren, though I figured much of that hardness would have trickled south by now. More likely, these Taliban are under wiser command that heard of and learned from the Swat disaster.

After disappearing, the Taliban have picked (apparently quite well) opportunities to attack both the Americans and the British. 8 Brits have died in the past two weeks, and the British will to keep fighting is seriously starting to falter. The Taliban may be concentrating on them specifically to try to kick them out of the fight, eliminating the second-largest troop presence in Afghanistan. But the primary casualties from the last few weeks have been from bombs and traps--not head-to-head fighting. It's terrible for troop morale, and it means little is getting done. The offensive should be offense--otherwise, it's just high exposure.

There is good reason to be anxious over the Helmand offensive--so far, it looks like a failure. Are the bulk of the Taliban hiding in Pakistan? In the mountains? It is apparently somewhat unclear. Unless the US and UK can find them and hit them hard, this offensive is going to be a failure.
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